Nigeria/South Africa: Super Eagles Under Pressure to Beat South Africa, Benin Republic, Says Ndidi

30 May 2024

Ahead of Nigeria's double-headed 2026 World Cup qualifying matches against South Africa and Benin Republic, slated for the Godswill Akpabio Stadium, Uyo and the Stade Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium, Abidjan respectively, Super Eagles stand-in Captain, Wilfred Ndidi, has admitted that the three-time African champions are under pressure to win the games.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the hostel he built at the new Maracana Stadium, Ajegunle, at the Ajeromi/Ifelodun Local Government, Lagos State, the Leicester City midfielder said, "to be honest I think the team is under pressure because we drew our first two games (against Lesotho and Zimbabwe) which now puts us in a difficult position. If we had gotten wins in both games we would have felt much more better going into the games against South Africa and Benin Republic.

"However, it's football and the pressure that comes with it is actually exciting because we know what we have to do. We know the games are must-win. We just need to stay focused, put in our best and try to win the matches."

The former Nath Boys of Lagos player however admitted that the Bafana Bafana are a very good side.

"They are very good team going by their performance at the last Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cote d'Ivoire. They gave us a tough fight and the winner had to be separated by penalty shootouts. But for me, the AFCON is past and we just need not look towards that direction again because their team then might be different entirely this time around. So, it all depends on us as a team and the way we want to approach the game," he noted.

Ndidi however discarded the notion that his new role at Leicester City which allows him to operate more often upfront may affect his defensive midfield duties in the national team.

"It depends on the tactics of the national team coach (Finidi George) and whatever role that he wants everyone to play. He sees the team the way he wants us to play. The role I play in Leicester is as an attacking midfielder but I still come back to support the defence, which is natural for me, but I don't know how the coach plans to approach the match against South Africa. Wherever he puts me am comfortable and ready to do my best and help the team to win," he assured Nigerian fans.

The Super Eagles will be playing against South Africa without the team's top striker, Victor Osimhen, and in-as-much-as Ndidi admitted that the team will miss the current African Footballer of the Year, he still hopes they will cope without him for the two matches.

"Victor is a good player and a hustler. He is a street footballer, hustling everywhere. As a defender, I know he does not give you room to relax. He drives the team forward. However, we still have so many other strikers in the team, who also in their own style bring different dynamics into the team. Though we will miss him (Osimhen) but this is not just the time to start thinking about that but to act and try to win the matches ahead.

Ndidi is indeed counting on Finidi George to take the team very far.

"I think he's going well with the support from everyone. The previous two international friendly games the Super Eagles played against Ghana and Mali in Morocco were very difficult for him because he was alone. "There was no assistant, he did everything alone- the tactics and analysis. Now he has gotten more support and I look forward to working with him. We've worked together before, he is an amazing personality, his tactics are really interesting. Going forward, I think he's going to do well for the team," Ndidi concluded.

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